LaSalle College Vancouver culinary students get down to business

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      B.C.’s dining industry is an economic behemoth. According to Restaurants Canada, it racks up annual sales of $13 billion and employs 174,200 people. That’s 7.3 percent of the workforce.

      “With the labour shortage right now, there’s a huge demand for cooks in the industry,” Benjamin Faber, director of the International Culinary School at LaSalle College Vancouver, told the Georgia Straight by phone.

      “It’s a really good time to be in hospitality overall" he said. "There’s a lot of work available.”

      But if someone aspires to become an executive chef or restaurant manager, they’re going to need a deep understanding of various factors that can make or break an establishment. And that’s where LaSalle College Vancouver enters the picture.

      Faber said his school offers six-month certificate and one-year diploma programs to full-time students in culinary arts and in baking and pastry arts. There are also one-year diploma programs in event management and in hospitality and restaurant-business management.

      An advanced diploma in culinary-arts ownership takes a year and a half to complete.

      Benjamin Faber, director of the International Culinary School at LaSalle College Vancouver, says faculty place a premium on ensuring graduates are job-ready.

      “About 35 percent of our program is theory-based, where we are in a classroom with the instructor,” Faber said. “A fundamentals class runs 10 hours a week over a span of 11 weeks. But before the fundamentals class, they have a class that we call concepts and theories, which is four hours a week for 11 weeks.”

      In these classes, students learn such things as designing, building, balancing out, and costing menus.

      In advanced programs, they explore human resources, organizational leadership, and catering. And in the management programs, they also develop their own business plan.

      “If they wanted to open up their own business, they could go and take that document to investors,” Faber noted.

      Because it’s a culinary school, LaSalle students spend plenty of time in the college’s two instructional kitchens.

      Students also operate their own restaurant on campus called the Second Floor Bistro, which is open for lunch on Thursdays and Fridays. It offers them a chance to see how the industry operates from a multitude of perspectives.

      “They focus on the marketing for the restaurant,” Faber said. “They do the menus. They do the costing. They all work front of the house and they all work back of the house.”

      This work is supervised by a dining-room manager and a chef instructor.

      “The two of them work with the students, and the students run the restaurant from opening to closing and everything in between,” Faber explained.

      To be admitted into the International Culinary School, students must be high-school graduates or have achieved mature-student status.

      As a prerequisite, they must write an essay answering basic questions and describing why they’re interested in the program and revealing what they can contribute. Faber reads all of the essays to determine if the applicants will be a good fit for the school.

      He said employers in the restaurant industry are seeking people who are versatile, which is why culinary students learn the basics of baking and pastry-making. And baking and pastry-arts students learn the fundamentals of classical cooking techniques before they move on to their specialization.

      In their advanced classes, baking and pastry-arts students are taught about such things as artisan breads, chocolate work, and wedding and display cakes.

      “The approach, ideally, is to get students ready for industry,” Faber said.

      This includes working with them on résumé writing, cover letters, and interview skills so that when an employment opportunity presents itself, graduates will have the confidence to secure it and remain in the industry for a long time.

      At the same time, Faber pointed out that students are not going to immediately walk into a job as an executive chef. That takes time.

      “You have got to have the foundation in order to build up,” he stated. “We help them to understand that you have to make a really good chicken stock in order to make a really good chicken soup. They get a lot of that training. Then it’s just having an understanding and a realistic expectation of what they’re about to step out into in the industry so that, hopefully, when they do graduate and they do get jobs that they’re not in over their heads.”

      LaSalle College Vancouver is hosting a free open house and creative workshops from 9:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. on December 9 at its campus (2665 Renfrew Street). For information, visit the LaSalle College Vancouver website.